Degree Speeches
Sum mer 2001

Roger H Boissier, CBE

Public Orator, Professor Neil Halliwell, presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Congregation held on the afternoon of Thursday 12 July 2001

Our honorary graduand today is already one of the family. Roger Boissier CBE is our Pro-Chancellor and the Deputy Chairman of Council.

He comes from a family of political refugees, part of the wave of Huguenots who fled from religious persecution in France during the 17th century. One branch of the Boissier family settled in Switzerland, as bankers, the other branch came here to England, as silversmiths.

It would be tempting to dwell on the fascinating tale of Roger Boissier's father, of his grandfather and great-grandfather, of where the money was made and how it was lost, the stuff of a best-selling family saga, largely set in Derbyshire. But we are here today to honour the man himself. In particular, we want see what kind of lesson his life can offer you, our new graduates, as you embark upon your own careers.

Roger's father was a senior manager at Aiton and Company Ltd, the Derby-based pipework and process plant engineers. At 15, he was earmarked by Mr Aiton to join the firm, but war broke out and Roger went off to serve as a naval airman in the Royal Navy. He never went to University but he regards his navy days as the next best thing, providing an amazing learning curve for the Harrow-educated lad.

After the war he learned Aiton's trade from the bottom up. First he went to the factory floor at International Combustion Ltd, Derby, where his work mates were compulsive practical jokers, then spent some time with a firm of Chartered Accountants to learn the book keeping, then became a "junior lad" with Merz and McClellan, consulting engineers based in Newcastle-on-Tyne.

Back in Derby at Aiton, his progress through the company was smooth, swift and upwards. In 1961 he became sales manager, based in London, where he revamped the sales ethos of the company. By 1971 he was Managing Director.

Then the journey began to get rocky.

The Aiton family sold up and the family firm became part of Whessoe plc. Roger stayed on as an Executive Director, but in the early 1980s he suddenly found himself stranded because of what is politely called "boardroom friction".

And this is where Roger's story provides all of us with a lesson for life.

The Boissier family home had taught him from an early age to develop the gift of friendship. His father had kept open house for the business people he dealt with, and Roger made friends with everyone he worked with, at whatever level, including the customers. Among them were colleagues who had become senior managers in some of the UK's most important companies.

There is a saying in Derbyshire and parts north: "Cast your bread upon the waters and it'll come back buttered." Roger found that the bread of friendship came back to him liberally spread with the butter of prosperity. Everybody knew him. Everybody wanted him. And he says the experience was both humbling and exhilarating. In 1983 Roger set up as an industrial consultant and his career prospered through involvement with a variety of companies and in a variety of capacities, including appointments first in 1984 as non-executive director of Pressac plc and then in 1990 as non-executive chairman.

Today Roger plays a senior role in several companies including The Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Company Ltd; British Gas plc and Severn Trent plc.

He is a governor of Harrow School, was High Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1987-88, was appointed CBE in 1992.

Nor must we forget to mention that he belongs to the Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers, alias Wire Workers, and was its Master in 1988-89.

Since his involvement with Loughborough he has been influential in taking the University forward as a premier UK institution for partnership with business and industry.

So, Chancellor, it gives me great pleasure to present to you, and the University, Roger Boissier, Commander of the British Empire, for the award of the degree of Doctor of Technology, honoris causa.

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